On the surface, Syncplicity looks much like other online storage services, offering file synchronization (between computers and the cloud) and archiving. But Syncplicity differentiates itself from other online storage services by tightly integrating with Google Docs: Syncplicity’s file-syncing tools talk directly—via the Google Docs API—to Google’s servers. That means you can synchronize copies of all files in your Google Docs storage area with Syncplicity’s cloud storage service and on any computers set up with Syncplicity’s desktop sync.
You can open and modify Google Docs files using Mac desktop tools such as Microsoft Word or Excel. (Documents you created with Google Docs’ online tools appear in a compatible form for editing.) In the Web interface, you can use Scribd iPaper for reading Web files, Zoho for editing them, and Picnik for editing images. You can, of course, still edit documents at Google’s Docs Web site. Wherever and however these changes are made, once saved they are propagated everywhere else.
If you want to synchronize computers on the same local network with any files—Google Docs or those stored in other folders or uploaded to the service’s cloud storage—Syncplicity can’t copy via the LAN. The files have to be uploaded first to cloud storage and then downloaded back to any other machines on the same local network.
For the most part, syncing worked well among computers and the cloud. However, when using Google Docs with Syncplicity, things can get complicated a times because the service must coordinate among three different places—Google Docs, Syncplicity’s cloud, and your desktop.If someone happens to be editing a document on the Google Docs site, and you’re editing the same file on your desktop through Syncplicity, you can get versioning conflicts. Syncplicity handles this by creating new copies of each file, each labeled to identify the source of the conflict. You can then merge all changes and delete the conflicted copies.
I also found Syncplicity tricky when trying to sync Windows and Mac machines. The service tries to pair corresponding folders on the different platforms. When I was installing the Mac client, I had already set up Syncplicity on a Windows machine. I was asked if I wanted folders like Desktop and Pictures from my Windows user directory to sync with same-named folders on my Mac. This is would be handy when appropriate, but I had to respond to several non-modal pop-up dialogs asking me to confirm the mapping of each folder, one at a time. You can opt to not synchronize such folders, to select an alternate path, or even sync a folder that doesn’t exist; the service creates it for you. Also, when I tried to interrupt a sync-in-progress, it proved to be almost impossible.
While desktop sync works fine under both Windows and Mac OS X, the Mac client is relatively primitive compared to the slick and useful Windows client. The Windows software lets you share folders from the desktop, for instance; on the Mac, you have to Control-click a folder in the Finder, select a sharing option, and then use the resulting Web page to share. Syncplicity also has no mobile apps, relying instead on a mobile Web site.
The Flash-based Web interfaces is nicely interactive. My only complaint is that, to access some features, you have to hover your cursor over a very small file icon; when the action icon appears, you have to hover over that. (Right-clicking works too.)
Syncplicity handles versioning reasonably well: In free accounts, older versions and deleted files are held for 30 days; paid accounts get unlimited quantities of each. Even better, the most recent 30 days’ worth of older versions and removed documents aren’t counted against your file storage quota. Files can be permanently deleted via a Recycling Bin on the Web site.
Data is encrypted in transit for both Web and desktop apps, and stored securely on Syncplicity’s servers. The company maintains redundant data storage, and prevents employee access to encryption keys that would allow access to customer files.
Syncplicity does have one significant limitation: Free accounts may only sync two computers at a time; paid personal accounts work on up to five computers, and there is no limit for business accounts. Its tools for business accounts are relatively meager; you can set some account policies, such as which files a user may share with others outside the company, but not as many as on other services.
Pricing is straightforward: Free accounts get 2GB of storage, but they are (as noted) limited to syncing two computers. For $15 a month, you get 5GB of storage and the ability to sync on five computers. Business accounts start at $45 a month, which is good for 50GB of storage, shared among three users. You can add additional users for $15 a month (that includes an additional 5GB of storage per user); additional storage is available for $10 a month for every 10 GB.
Macworld’s buying advice
Syncplicity stands out from other online file storage and sychronizing services because of its Flash-based Web app and remarkable integration with Google Docs. Its business tools are thin compared to some of those others, but they get the job done.